This post is not another complaint about the ignorance of American voters. OK, it is, kind of. But it's more than a lament. It's a warning.
When Republicans and Democrats tout conflicting numbers from polls showing how many Americans oppose or approve of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), when they make all kinds of claims about what "the people" want before the law actually rolls out, when an irrational and irresponsible minority in the House of Representatives draws on a supposed national mandate to shut down the government lest the health-care law begin to take effect, they are building grand arguments on basically meaningless data.
Have a look at this new poll and sober up. Actually, you might need a cup of coffee to keep these numbers straight. They are all over the place:
First thing: 30 percent of the public don't know what ACA is, vs. only 12 percent when we asked about Obamacare. More on that later.
Now for the difference: 29 percent of the public supports Obamacare compared with 22 percent who support ACA. Forty-six percent oppose Obamacare and 37 percent oppose ACA. So putting Obama in the name raises the positives and the negatives. Gender and partisanship are responsible for the differences. Men, independents and Republicans are more negative on Obamacare than ACA. Young people, Democrats, nonwhites and women are more positive on Obamacare.
By way of context, a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll asked if respondents believe the new health care law is a good or bad idea. Their results: 31 percent think it's a good idea and 44 percent say bad idea—roughly in line with the Obamacare response. A quarter of respondents said they didn't know enough to have an opinion, equal to the share in the CNBC poll who don't know or are neutral on Obamacare.
I warned you.
If that was too much text, Jimmy Kimmel has captured a microcosm of clueless America (OK, OK, the dumbest people he could find on Hollywood Boulevard) on video:
Are you among the less-than-clued-in? Kavita Patel and Darshak Sanghavi at Slate have prepared a nice summary of what you need to know about the Affordable Care Act. Read it. And if you are one of the 45 million Americans without health insurance, go here to learn about and enroll in a health care plan.